Top 100 Children’s Novels #37: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Don’t know if this qualifies as a children’s—it’s kind of on the border between middle grade and YA, but it’s one of my favorite books of all time so I’m including it. There’s so much going on, and Schmidt has the wonderful capacity to make the reader laugh out loud and cry—all on the same page. – Heather Christensen
Two words: cream puffs – Jessalynn Gale
The plot from my review reads, “Mrs. Baker hates Holling Hoodhood. There’s no two ways about it, as far as he can tell. From the minute he entered her classroom she had it in for him and he’s trying not to become paranoid. Now because half the kids in his class are Jewish and half Catholic, every Wednesday Holling (a Protestant through and through) is stuck alone with Mrs. Baker while the other kids go to Hebrew School or Catechism for the afternoon. And what has this evil genius dreamt up for our poor young hero? Shakespeare. He has to read it and get tested on it regularly with the intention (Holling is sure) of boring him to death. The thing is, Holling kind of gets to like the stuff. Meanwhile, though, he has to deal with wearing yellow tights butt-gracing feathers, avoiding killer rats and his older sister, and deciding what to do about Meryl Lee Kowalski, ‘who has been in love with me since she first laid eyes on me in the third grade,’ amongst other things. Set during the school year of 1967-68 against a backdrop of Vietnam and political strife, Holling finds that figuring out who you are goes above and beyond what people want you to become.”
It won a Newbery Honor in 2008, beaten by the fantastic Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. A good year. Since that time Schmidt wrote the companion novel Okay for Now.
PW said of it, “Unlike most Vietnam stories, this one ends happily, as Schmidt rewards the good guys with victories that, if not entirely true to the period, deeply satisfy.”
Said SLJ, “The tone may seem cloying at first and the plot occasionally goes over-the-top, but readers who stick with the story will be rewarded. They will appreciate Holling’s gentle, caring ways and will be sad to have the book end.”
Booklist liked it quite a bit saying, “Holling’s unwavering, distinctive voice offers a gentle, hopeful, moving story of a boy who, with the right help, learns to stretch beyond the limitations of his family, his violent times, and his fear, as he leaps into his future with his eyes and his heart wide open.”
Horn Book went on with, “Schmidt rises above the novel’s conventions to create memorable and believable characters.”
Kirkus concluded with, “Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms.”
And best of all was this section from Tanya Lee Stone’s New York Times review, “Still, while ‘The Wednesday Wars’ was one of my favorite books of the year, it wasn’t written for me. Sometimes books that speak to adults miss the mark for their intended audience. To see if the novel would resonate as deeply with a child, I gave it to an avid but discriminating 10-year-old reader. His laughter, followed by repeated outbursts of ‘Listen to this!,’ answered my question. Best of all, he asked if I had a copy of ‘The Tempest’ he could borrow.”
Now the cover seen at the top of this review was by no means the first of its kind. A slightly different jacket appeared when galleys were first sent out. It looked like this:
The changes are, in a word, fascinating. Then there was the paperback version:
Anyone else out there mildly freaked out by how good the kids’ book trailers are getting these days? I offer to the jury example A:
To be fair, it has roughly 5 billion book trailers on YouTube. I just chose one of the best.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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